Broadening participation and deepening engagement: An agenda for research on student interest in physics

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Paula Heron
University of Washington, USA
Forum 2014 Helsinki
WG1 : Inspiring the young

In some educational systems, a course in physics is part of a program of study leading

to almost any degree in science, medicine or engineering. Therefore many university

students, even those who are not planning to study the subject further, take physics

courses. A small fraction of these students may be motivated by interest in the subject

itself. In secondary school, it can be assumed that a similarly small fraction of students

taking physics courses would do so if it were not required.

Many physicists have expressed concern about the perceived lack of student interest

in physics, some motivated by the sense that overall participation is low, and some by

the sense that physics has lost its attraction for the brightest students. Moreover, students

who see a physics course as a barrier to be overcome in the pursuit of their true

interests, may be disengaged during instruction.

Numerous explanations have been proposed for the relative lack of interest in physics.

Empirical research has much to offer in helping us understand the reasons students

choose to study physics or not, and offer insights that can be used to attract more students

to the discipline.

In this talk I will discuss relevant research findings and propose an agenda for research

that could lead to broader participation and greater engagement.